The Taliban’s beheading of 17 people including two women in Afghanistan’s Helmand province has evoked world-wide disgust.
The victims were civilians. They were beheaded for listening to music and dancing. They belonged to a nomadic group, whose culture includes music and dance. In acting against them, the Taliban has laid bare its obscurantist outlook.
During the Taliban regime (1996-2001), the Ministry of Vice and Promotion of Virtue banned Afghans from viewing television or movies, and listening of music.
Girls above the age of ten were forbidden from going to school or mixing with men who were not blood relatives. Listening to music was considered sinful, an action that deserved beatings, even death. It was these oppressive edicts that contributed to the mounting unpopularity of the Taliban.
The Taliban sought legitimacy for these rules by claiming that singing and dancing were un-Islamic, a clear distortion of the Prophet’s teachings. Since the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001, beheading of civilians for listening to music had come down, although there have been countless instances of civilians being executed for allegedly acting as informers for the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Music is a core component of Afghan culture. By silencing it, the Taliban is denying the Afghan people their culture and also a means of self-expression and entertainment. Their recent beheading is a violation of human rights as well as of Afghan and international law.
It is unfortunate that at a time when president Hamid Karzai is trying his utmost to bring the Taliban into the political mainstream by engaging it in talks, and seeking ways to help the Taliban rid itself of its image as a terrorist organisation, its members continue to engage in actions that reveal their medieval and brutal mindset.
The ongoing peace process with the Taliban has several critics, an important one being the US. These detractors are bound to point to the Taliban’s continuing brutal ways to force Karzai to call off the talks. By beheading civilians the Taliban has undermined itself.
The peace process provides it with an opportunity to improve its image, enhance its credibility and perhaps even access power through legitimate ways. Many of its cadres are fed up of endless fighting. They want to lead normal lives with families and friends around them. Indulging in brutal actions will not ease their path to normalcy.